Since making some new friends a couple of weeks ago, weekends have regained their familiar place as the time to "unwind" after a long work week of spelling tests and runny noses; however, while most think of unwinding as a relaxing pursuit, unwinding among twenty-somethings in Taiwan is defined much the same as it was when I was in college - namely, drinking until we all do things we will not be proud of when the morning sun shines light on our torn shirts, bloody knees and heavy eyes. Though I can no longer claim the stamina or tolerance that I proudly called my own in my university days, I am thankful that I now have something more to do on the weekends than just sleep until noon, explore aimlessly on foot and watch Bruce Willis movies alone in my one-room mansion.
Walking home from work on Friday evening, my friend Jamil sends me a text message: "Let's hit the Taipei nightlife tonight. What you say?"
I have been in this country for almost three months and have yet to visit its largest and most "energetic" city. Part of the reason for this has been lack of expendable funds, part has been fear of being in a massive foreign city by myself, which I have never done save for my limited experience in Macao (a decidedly more English friendly tourist city). However, now with this month's freshly deposited paycheck waiting to be tapped and at least one friend to go with, any reservations I have been nurturing are slaughtered at the hands of my ravenous sense of adventure. "Pick you up at nine" texts Jamil. I shower and am ready by 8:00 p.m.
Before getting on the bus to Taipei we stop off to pick up a couple of Jamil's friends, a Frenchman by the name of (can you guess it?) Pierre and a Moroccan Frenchman who goes by "Face", and to wait for our British friend Marc to finish giving a guitar lesson. I have never been in the company of Frenchmen before, but they seem to fit into the preconceived stereotypes that I have been doing my best to shake since I left the States; they are smooth and friendly, well-dressed and well-groomed. After everyone arrives we hop the bus to Taipei, passing a bottle of Scotch whiskey around and drinking beer, talking too loudly and trading questions and answers about each other's personal histories and cultures. I learn that Face is from the city of Casablanca, and I do my best Humphrey Bogart impression, which falls flat because no one else has seen the movie. As we talk and laugh and drink it amazes me that six months ago everyone I associated with was from the same state, or even the same town. Now, between the five guys disturbing the other passengers from the back of the bus, we represent four continents (Jamil - Honduras [Central/South America], Pierre and Marc - France and the U.K., respectively [Europe], Face - Morocco [Africa], and me [U.S.A], can speak just as many languages, and are going drinking in one of the larger cities in East Asia.
The bus fare is $105 NT ($3.40 US) for the hour-long trip to Taipei, and though I'm not exactly sure what time we arrive, it is probably approaching midnight when we all pack into one cab and pull up to our first destination. Upon getting out of the cab, Marc asks where Taipei 101 is. "Oh, you can't see it now," replies Jamil "its over there, but the buildings are in the way". Marc laughs. "The tallest building in the world and we can't even see it over the buildings?!" I, too, am disappointed, but the alcohol consumed on the way up is beginning to take effect and the lights and sounds of the city are igniting my senses. I soon forget the tallest building in the world and focus my attention on the activity at street level.
I am not exactly sure what the names of the bars are called or how Jamil knows how to find them (I guess he HAS been in this country for a while, now), but I soon find myself gliding up the side of a building in an elevator and slipping through well-dressed men and woman at an upscale lounge. A waitress comes and takes our drink orders, I order the margarita martini for a taste of home. At $300 NT a piece the martinis are not terribly overpriced by U.S. standards, but expensive enough to keep us from ordering a second and we soon leave the pounding house music in search of something a little cheaper and somewhere a little crazier. The next bar is, literally, underground. We descend the black staircase and pay the $600 NT cover charge, which would usually elicit complaints; however, this fee also included all of one's drinks for the evening.
Forgive me if the following seems to lack detail or description. These were both lost somewhere in the music and the tequila sunrises:
We drink tequila sunrises. I switch to whiskey & cokes at some point and never look back. The deejays are Asian, but have dreads and wear N.B.A. jerseys. I remember singing some remix of Red Hot Chili Peppers when one of the deejays holds the microphone in front of me. (Yeah, I am "that guy"). I dance. A lot. We meet a girl who claims she is from Miami, Florida but looks and acts very Taiwanese. We call her Miami the rest of the night. I jump up on the stage. I dance until my legs hurt. Miami bites me on the shoulder, I still have no idea why. We leave the club and I buy everyone sausages from a street vendor, but eat it so fast that I burn the hell out of my tongue. We wander around a corporate park for what seems like hours. I buy a stick of gum from a homeless lady for $100 NT. I let some random Taiwanese man use my sim card from my phone. I lose my shirt. Jamil finds my shirt in Miami's purse. I begin to think Miami is a little crazy.
After this the night fades to black, like a movie where the protagonist is poisoned and all the audience sees is his world blurring, spinning, and stopping. When my memory resets itself I am in a two-story McDonalds and the sun is rising. I eat the over-processed calorie-laden sustenance without tasting it. I feel ashamed that I have broken one of my rules of living in Taiwan (never eat something you can get back home), but my body has convinced my brain that I will die without ingesting something that begins with "Mc" and will surely end with a stomach ache. We leave the McDonalds and drag our feet along the sidewalk; the sun has been born once again. People are heading to work, glancing quickly at us as they pass. I'd like to think that they smile inside, remembering a past life when days and nights melted into each other in a seamless haze, when they too were young, irresponsible, invincible.
We take the bus home and Marc and I talk about Southpark, music and video games while everyone else sleeps. My body begs for sleep, my veins need rest to strain all the poison from my blood and make me new again, but I fight on, prolonging the inevitable until it will be sweetest. Finally back home, I draw the curtain and collapse into bed, succumbing to exhaustion. My muscles shudder and stop, my lungs exhaling fumes in shallow breaths while the world slowly grinds on without me far below. I will not dream, and the memories of the night that should be saved will elude my sleeping mind and be lost forever to the ringing in my ears. But there will be more memories to erase, more nights to embrace this life. Don't wake me I plan on sleeping in...